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Urban Chat: Dear Hollywood, Please pass on ‘Friends’ reunion

Lynda Ibrahim

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Thu, November 14, 2019  /  05:10 pm
Urban Chat: Dear Hollywood, Please pass on ‘Friends’ reunion

A scene from 'Friends'. (IMDB/-)

Twenty-five years ago David Crane and Marta Kauffman created Friends, a 30-minute sitcom featuring six people in their mid- to late-20s, juggling life and love in the merry madness that was 1990s New York City.

Aired originally by NBC between Mad About You and Seinfeld, two quintessentially TV shows about New York life, Friends initially received mixed reviews before winning praises and ratings, even outlasting Seinfeld’s famed nine-year run by another year.

When it aired its hour-long finale after a decade, Friends had won awards and made its cast ensemble millionaires thanks to collective pay negotiations starting in season 3.

The 2004 finale lured 52.5 million viewers, the fourth most watched series finale in American television history. Fifteen years on, syndication is so strong that when earlier this year Netflix lost to HBO Max the rights to air Friends, its most popular show, analysts rushed to recalculate Netflix’s financial health.

Friends was a juggernaut in the golden age of conventional TV and remains so in the era of digital streaming.

No wonder the talk of reunion lives on, gaining ground as Friends celebrates its premiere’s 25th anniversary this year.

Jennifer Aniston, arguably the show's most high-wattaged star to date, certainly heightened the speculation when the famously private actress finally debuted her Instagram account with a picture of the ensemble hanging out, breaking the internet in the process.

But should a reunion be made at all?

The loyal fan in me says no. Here's why not.

First, the premise.

Friends is about people in that particular age group when you're trying to decipher adulthood – first serious relationships, leaving the parental home and making it on your own, make-or-break career choices with middle-aged bosses from hell.

In retrospect, Friends was the first "OK, Boomers!" pushback. It ended with the characters finally "figuring it out": Joey moved to LA for a brighter career, Phoebe found a man who appreciated "Smelly Cat", Monica and Chandler adopted twins and moving to the suburbs and single mom Rachel chose Ross over the Paris job.

Gen X watch the reruns for a lighthearted trip down the memory lane. Gen Y, aka the millennials (born 1981 to 1996), too young to relate during the original airing, enjoy it now thanks to the great scriptwriting that made Friends a classic.

To hold a reunion and make it real would be to present six people with problems for their current age group – a mortgage trap, a humdrum career, Gen Z kids or lack thereof in a marriage, sick or deceased parents and possibly a divorce.

Gen Y might not necessarily see it as an entertaining cautionary tale and Gen X would be reminded of real life. Who would need that from a once beloved show? That was exactly the mistake of the Sex in the City 2 movie: After managing to succeed, the six-season TV show’s glorious finale with a drama-filled wedding flick, it pushed its luck for another film that just got dragged down by the “afterwards". It's also the core mistake of any Fast and Furious installment past Furious 7, but don't get me started.

Second, the era.

Friends was a fitting byproduct of a healthy economy and a cheery 1990s disposition that was resilient enough, at least in America, to withstand the OJ Simpson murder case, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Columbine shooting and even 9/11 in its later years.

The ground could be shaky and then-president Bill Clinton might have been cheating on his wife, yet public life wasn't wrecked by weekly mass shootings, venomous social media, families polarized over politics and a president shamelessly engaging in a Twitter war with Chrissy Teigen. Even the craziest thing coming across the pond was Ross saying the wrong name at his wedding, not Brexit.

It was madness, yet it was still merry. To not resurrect Friends into this new set of realities means making Friends a half-baked period show, yet to interject it into today's realities means risking making the nuggets of wisdom from the 10-season show sound stale instead of classic.

That would in turn jeopardize the healthy shelf-life of the show reruns, reportedly now generating US$1 billion annually for producer Warner Bros. and $20 million for each of the main cast members. Is the projected reunion windfall worth risking to bother the goose that's steadfastly laying golden eggs?

Third, the duration.

How long would the reunion be? An hourlong TV show? A two-hour movie?

Anything can go wrong in that small window with the pressure to top the decade-long monolith: script, acting, camera work, the combination of all. While some diehards might still like whatever has Friends stamped on it, other sizable fans might not find it savory and thus it might ruin the great collective memory.

If the powers that be can't learn from Sex and the City and the Fast and Furious franchise, why not learn from the mistakes of Joey, a spin-off about Joey Tribiani's travails in LA, which tanked after only two seasons?

Whenever interviewed individually, the cast members never expressed enthusiasm over a possible reunion, with Matthew Perry claiming to have actual nightmares about it. Aniston perhaps said it best to Howard Stern recently, that it won't be even close to as good as what it was.

Hollywood may brush off the view of the loyal fan in me, but should it discount what the cast thinks? The fact that Crane and Kauffman reportedly never wanted to return beyond the 10th season illustrates that even back then the creators already had the good sense to stop while they were ahead.

So, stop, Hollywood. Please pass on the temptations for a Friends reunion.

I'm writing this accompanied by my yellow memorabilia coffee mug printed with an orange sofa and an "I would rather be watching Friends" inscription because that is essentially what over the years has drawn fans like me to return, not a risky reunion.

Allow us to treasure it for what it was. Leave that merry madness patch of our lives intact.

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